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Monday, May 20, 2024

Regular-Season Euro Soccer Matches in U.S. Closer As Legal Barriers Fall

  • The pathway for European leagues to play official matches in the U.S. remains uncertain.
  • The NFL touts its still-expanding international profile.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The prospect of European soccer leagues playing regular-season matches in the U.S. has been a highly tantalizing prospect for many promoters and stadium operators for years.

Recent legal developments have now made such events truly possible, but the final and critical step of those leagues actually agreeing to do so remains uncertain. 

Earlier this month, FIFA settled a long-running lawsuit filed by promoter Relevent Sports, controlled by Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, that had alleged antitrust violations regarding the global governing body’s prior policy emphasizing leagues’ playing official matches within their own respective territories. 

That legal action is still proceeding with the U.S. Soccer Federation as a defendant, but FIFA is now moving to change its policy blocking domestic games being played in the territories of other federations. The emerging shift, however, is not immediately opening the floodgates toward European matches being booked for U.S. facilities.

“It’s not part of our current plans, it really isn’t,” said Richard Masters, Premier League CEO, on Friday following a meeting of the 34-nation European Leagues group. “No one quite knows exactly what is happening, but the door looks ajar potentially in America, at any rate, for matches abroad.”

Massive Appeal

For years, even friendlies among European soccer powers have routinely sold out the largest pro and college football stadiums in the U.S. Putting more meaningful matches, as well as the sport’s biggest stars that sometimes skip those friendlies, in those venues would undoubtedly fuel even more fan frenzy, and represent something of an inverse of what the NFL has seen in countries like Germany. 

To that end, LaLiga is much more bullish on the prospect, an unsurprising stance since that league in 2018 proposed a match between Barcelona, then still featuring Lionel Messi, and Girona that was blocked by FIFA, helping lead to the legal battle with Relevent.

“I don’t know when, but this time LaLiga will play official games abroad,” LaLiga president Javier Tebas told Spanish newspaper Expansión. “I think it could be from the 2025–26 season. An official game in the United States would strengthen our position in the North American market, which is the second [biggest] for LaLiga after Spain.”

Worry-Free Travel

While the U.S. proves to be an elusive market for top European soccer leagues’ regular-season games, the NFL continues to have no problem taking American football aboard. 

Ahead of Thursday’s NFL draft, commissioner Roger Goodell predicted that the league would be playing 16 regular-season games annually outside of the U.S. in 10 years’ time. This season, the league will play five games internationally, tying the record number from last year. “We’ll try to get to eight or nine in the next couple years,” Goodell said during an interview on ESPN, confirming plans that could result in a new Sunday morning TV window for the NFL.

In September, the NFL will play its first game in Brazil, and next year it will be headed to Spain. “The reaction we’re getting from fans every time we play in a new market is incredible,” Goodell said. “There are a lot of markets that want us to play there, and we’re actively looking at all those.”

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